Puzzling through stories with Peter Turchi
February 4, 2015, by Allyn West
Inprint loves to showcase the best in new books by top local authors. One of the most interesting books to come out in the past year is A Muse and A Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic by Houston writer Peter Turchi. Turchi is the author of several books, including Map of the Imagination: Writer as Cartographer, named by The New York Times as one of the 100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time. Turchi, a faculty member at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, serves as a frequent interviewer for the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series.
Some of my favorite books when I was just a li’l egghead were the Encyclopedia Brown stories by Donald Sobol. I went back to a collection of them recently after reading A Muse & A Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, & Magic, the new book by University of Houston creative writing professor Peter Turchi.
The Encyclopedia Brown stories present themselves as mysteries. They concern Leroy, a.k.a. “Encyclopedia,” a 10-year-old “Sherlock Holmes in sneakers,” whose father happens to be the chief of police of Idaville, a town “like many other seaside [ones],” with “lovely beaches, three movie theaters, and four banks.” Except no one, writes Sobol, “got away with breaking the law in Idaville.”
The lawbreakers are your typical seaside layabouts; nothing to see here. Encyclopedia’s primary nemesis is a fledgling sociopath named Bugs Meany, instigator of a gang of would-be toughs called the Tigers who try to scam the other townies. Each chapter begins with an aggrieved victim seeking out Encyclopedia and his sidekick, Sally Kimbell. They ride their bikes to the scene of the crime; the story of the accuser and the story of the accused are told, and Encyclopedia pauses dramatically while Sobol interrupts to direct you to page 64 for “the solution.” In the end, some detail that violates the rate at which water evaporates, or the conventions of elevator repair, or the date when the Liberty Bell was cracked, is the lie that tells the truth. The antique lamp or the champion yodeling toad is returned to the rightful owner, and order is restored. Continue reading